Phil Fouche is the owner and president of oilfield equipment supplier Quatro Products dba REXCO in Odessa, Texas. He has been a member of NACE International and now the Association for Materials Protection and Performance (AMPP) since 1991.
During those years, Fouche has been active on numerous association boards and committees, including a spot on the NACE/AMPP Coating Inspector Program (CIP) Subcommittee for more than a decade. On the business side, Fouche sold heavy-duty coatings until the sale of his paint stores in 2016.
Today, Fouche holds an AMPP Senior Certified Coatings Inspector credential and continues to travel the world as a CIP Instructor to help educate the next generation of coatings professionals across numerous countries and continents.
Over his distinguished career as an educator, Fouche has led that mission — often by teaching the first CIP classes — in locations such as Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Dubai, Ecuador, Egypt, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Mexico, the Philippines, Qatar, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Vietnam, and of course, all over the United States. During that time, Fouche advocated for Spanish and Chinese translations of many course materials and played a key role in that transition.
Recently, Fouche spoke with us about his extensive time in the corrosion control and protective coatings industries, along with some highlights and lessons learned from his decades spent as an education instructor. Read on for a limited Q&A transcript from that podcast, and check out the full interview online at www.materialsperformance.com/podcasts.
Q: How did you get into this business?
Fouche: I majored in biology, and I come from a family of teachers. I started off teaching and coaching near Lake Jackson, Texas, down on the coast. I went into a management series with an oilfield company called Smith International, and I realized that what I really wanted to do was own my own business. My dad was living back in Odessa, and there was a coating company called Cobra Coating. The guy who owned it had died, his widow had it, and I went back and talked to her. That’s how I got into this business. I bought Cobra Coating when there were three employees, not counting me. I had two trucks and two compressors.
A lot of people don’t realize the market. They said, “God, West Texas is so dry, there can’t be corrosion issues and everything else.” What’s interesting is we have one of the worst corrosion issues in the world. The Permian Basin is 300 million years old, basically a shallow ocean. When you produce a barrel of oil, you produce seawater, and that seawater is extremely corrosive. It also contains sulfur, so we have sulfuric acid, H2S [hydrogen sulfide], and all those problems. From the get-go, I was raised in the oilfield and in the summers worked as a roustabout, and I watched these people coating these tanks. I never did quite understand it all, but I do now.
It’s interesting how you can make a complete circle. Years later, when I taught the first NACE CIP classes in China and in the Netherlands, what people were really talking about was shipyards. That seawater is so extremely corrosive, and ships traveling around the world needed to have a certified person involved in the coating of all their tanks. The International Maritime Organization didn’t have the means of training their people, so I started talking with the IMO, and that spread our business.
Back in Odessa, there was a guy who was running the company at the time, and I will never forget this. His name was Jackie Hubbard, and I ended up doing Jackie’s eulogy at his funeral. He meant everything to me, and he taught me everything about the business: blasting, painting, coating. I would go out with him every day, and I learned so much from this guy.
I built that business up, and I ended up being the largest contractor out here with 10 trucks and 20 people, and we coated tanks all in the Permian Basin and all through Oklahoma.
Q: What led you to get involved with NACE International [at the time]?
Fouche: I sold Cobra Coating in 1986, and I ended up buying paint stores not only in the Midland and Odessa area but also in El Paso [Texas] and Albuquerque [N.M.]. I knew I wanted to be more involved in this business, and probably the best asset I had to building my business — and particularly in selling coatings — was that I educated my customers.
In 1990, I took a NACE Coating Inspector Program (CIP) class in Midland. Dave Evans, who works for AMPP now, is a good friend of mine, and he was my instructor. We were about halfway through the class and he came over to me said, “Hey, you knew more about this business than I do.” I said, “No, I’m here learning.” Dave was kind of my mentor. He’s the one who directed me to go ahead and take Level 2 and Level 3.
Finally, I took him up here and started teaching classes in 1996 or 1997. Truthfully, it was the best thing I ever did for my business, and I think for a lot of people out here in West Texas. I used it to educate my customers, and I got them all to take NACE classes. My largest five customers all took NACE classes, and all my employees did. There was so much to learn.
I had a lot to offer NACE. I got involved and went on the CIP committee shortly after becoming an instructor. I was on it for 12 years, and I still have been involved in helping rewrite all this stuff.
These NACE CIP classes have enriched my life. Not only professionally but personally. I got to travel the world and do the one thing that Phil Fouche loves more than anything else, and that’s teaching. I love teaching, and to pass on this information to other people is a blessing. I’ve been blessed beyond words. Every time I talk about NACE, I tell all my friends that we were here during the golden years, and hopefully I’ve trained enough people in China and other places that have become really good instructors. A lot of the instructors out there were taught under me and became instructors, and I’m just very, very proud of them all.
Q: How has the coatings industry changed over time, relative to when you first got started?
Fouche: The really simple answer is education. When I bought Cobra Coating, I looked around at my competitors. Not only did they not have college degrees, they just weren’t educated. I realized the key to this whole thing was education. What I saw was that I could enhance my business by educating my customers and understanding exactly what we’re doing and how it all works.
With the NACE CIP classes, we taught the end users and those people who were paying the bills about how important it was to do something right. I can remember the first time I had an inspector show up on the job. I said, “What are you doing here?” He was with Gulf [Oil], and he had a holiday detector. We became friends. He encouraged me, and I ended up taking the NACE class.
What we’ve seen over the years since I got involved in the mid-to-late 1970s is that the people we deal with now are more highly educated. They understand what they’re doing, and they understand the why, which is most important. They say, “We’ll do this, but why should we do that? Why should we blast it so clean? Why should we fill these pinholes or these areas?” Everybody needs an answer to the why, and that’s what those NACE classes do. They tell you why you’re doing it, not just to do it. I didn’t understand the whys when I got started.
The other side of the coin: There are three ways you can prevent or slow down corrosion. Those are coatings; electricity, which is CP [cathodic protection]; and chemicals. Those are the three areas that you would see NACE and SSPC [The Society for Protective Coatings] divide their expertise into, as far as slowing down corrosion. My end was coatings.
Today, what we were using in the 70s, no one would use anymore. We know what lead does and the side effects of these particular products. The end user has a better product now that is manufactured in the coating. I think educating everybody has made all the difference in the world, and that’s where I put the gold stamp on the CIP program. We have updated and raised the bar for everybody in this industry.
Q: Why was CIP the right course for you?
Fouche: When you’re selling coatings, you need to be sure you understand the processes involved. It’s amazing how many people I have taught over the years who worked for coating manufacturers and had never sprayed or applied anything. What I liked about the CIP program, we put the gun in their hands. We let them understand what it’s like for the guys to go out in the field. They see how hard it is. By getting their hands in, they realize how important it is to have good applicators out there and good inspectors to make their product perform better.
Today, I tell them, “Pay attention, because these guys who are out there doing basically the dirty work, it’s really important for them to do it right.” It will make all the difference in the world for a coating manufacturer. That was me, way back when. I needed to know how to apply it right and do it the right way. And then, for the people you’re doing it for as the end users, it’s the most important thing because they’re the ones paying for the job. I picked CIP because it was what I did, it’s what I wanted to do, and I still do it at 74 years old.
For more information, contact Phil Fouche at firstname.lastname@example.org, and listen to the complete podcast below.